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Civil War and Reconstruction
The Freedmen
Mrs. Emma Falconer

Mrs. Emma Falconer was born in 1850 in Mississippi. She was interviewed in the 1930s about her life. The following excerpts describe her memories of the problems facing the freed slaves in Mississippi. What problems of freedmen does she identify? What other problems might be inferred from her words? Do you think the solution to the "negro problem" that she describes was a good one? Why or why not?

View the entire interview with Mrs. Emma Falconer from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.

"I was fifteen years old when the war between the states ended and still living with my grandmother in Missippi. It would be impossible for me to give you an exact picture of conditions at this time. The civil laws of the south were not in operation and the military government that had charge of affairs was not enough to meet the demands made upon it. The negroes had been set free and were supported by the office of the "freedmens buerau". Many left the plantation on which they were born and went from to place like lost sheep expecting to be provided for. Most of them believed that freedom meant idleness and to live as they had seen the wealthier class of whites live.

"Many went to the cities expecting the freedmens bureau to feed and clothe them and this body could not care for all. Therefore, stealing and incendiarism took place. The white people could hardly the slaves were free and the old faithful slaves were still dependent on their former masters for their support. We all know how the unprincipled politicians came down and took charge and deprived the whites who fought in the rebel army from voting and the vote and many offices were given to the former slaves or their off-springs. It was the time of the "carpet bagger rule and scalawags" as they were called.

"There is no doubt but that the indignities that were heaped on the south led to acts of retaliation. When there were political conventions it was these unprincipled politicians that ruled the day, for this reason there were prejudice aroused against the Republican party that to this day has not been entirely overcome by the honesty of later officers of that party.

"There was the union League, a secret political society that had its branches in most of the southern states, some under different names. They told the slaves their old masters were making arrangements to re-enslave them and this aroused more trouble and caused some of the many unlawful acts of the reconstruction period, it was believed. It was by means of these societies the negroes were made to believe they were to be given forty acres and a mule. These societies were offset by the Ku-Klux Klan which was intended to restore order, as well as a protection to the communities which were suffering from these troubles. However the spirit of it was often violated by parties doing unjust things in the name of the Klan.

"When the southern men who were capable leaders gained control of affairs, after several years and much needless expense which the states had been subject to by these politicians who were making their office's an excuse for their own private gains, the troubles began to gradually die down. When the northern opinion had become disgusted with the dishonesty that had been practiced in the name of the Republican party there came a welcome end to this humiliating and bitter rule. While both factions were busy trying to solve this problem it solved itself with the help of their former masters. When the negroes saw that they had to go to work to live they let the white man arrange for them to work the land for a part of the crops and their supplies. After all, it was the southern planters who solved the negro problem as it is solved today."
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View the entire interview with Mrs. Emma Falconer, from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.